Stranded, or Withholding Judgment

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Currently, I am temporarily residing in the lovely and fast-growing city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, home of Middle Tennessee State University, which is the home of the writing program I co-direct, the Writer's Loft.  (Our fall workshops and orientation are next week and there are still a few spots left. You can come on Friday for the low cost of $50, and there will be workshops with Whitney Ferre and Kathy Rhodes. Check out the website for more info.)

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I left Portland on Tuesday, expecting to arrive here that night.  Instead, I arrived on Wednesday night, after an unexpected stranding in Houston.  There was a hurricane, they said.  So they had to cancel flights. The weather looked like a lot of hot, steamy rain to me but what do I know?  I got the last room at the airport Marriott and barely slept all night, worried about my flights the next day, even though the bed was soft and bedbug-free (I checked) and the pillows plump and numerous.

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Next morning, bright and early, I landed on a flight to Newark.  From there, I'd catch my connection to Nashville.  Never mind that it makes absolutely no sense to fly all the way across the country from one coast to the other and then double back again.  But, this turned out to be the best part of my adventure, even though I thought that hanging out in the airport bar with a bunch of stranded travelers would be.  (Can I just say that Mad Men are alive and well in this millennium?  In the time I drank two glasses of wine, the businessmen sitting beside me at the bar downed three mixed drinks and three glasses of wine.  Gee-zus.) Because upon hearing that I was a writer, the friendly flight attendant invited me to join him in the back of the plane.  I sat on the jump seat as he regaled me with ideas for screenplays, jokes, and classic lines of dialogue from movies.  This made up for the fact that there were no blankets and it was freezing (said friendly flight attendant made the pilots turn up the heat) and that an Angry Bald Guy who punched the overhead compartment in his fury was sitting next to me.

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My point to this story? Well, as the title hints, it is that we often shut ourselves down to interesting adventures and experiences because we're so worried and judgmental.  Upon hearing that my flight had been cancelled, my first thoughts were dread and fear.  Where would I stay?  What if there weren't any rooms?  What if I really couldn't make it to Nashville until Thursday, as they initially told me?  How would I cope without my suitcase?  I was already pre-judging my experience before I'd even started to experience it.  So I made a conscious effort to let all that go, and just hang in there and go with the flow.  And it worked out great.  I hung out in the bar, met an interesting fellow writer, saw the Manhattan skyline from the Newark airport, and made it to Nashville in only minorly stinky clothes.  In short, I had an adventure.  And I loved every minute of it.

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And now here I am in Murfreesboro.   And I'm determined to celebrate and enjoy whatever comes my way, good or bad, without pre-judging.  After all, life's an adventure.

What do you pre-judge?  Um, your writing, perhaps?  I do that, too.  But that's a post for another day.

Photo credits: airplane by Richard_B, courtesy of MorgueFile, Marriott Houston from TripAdvisor, screaming man, Brbankston from Everystockphoto, downtown Murfreesboro from Pollinator, via Wikipedia.

Friday Review: Female Nomad and Friends

Female Nomad and Friends:
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Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

by Rita Golden Gelman

I leaped at the chance to review this book because I was familiar with Gelman's first book, Tales of a Female Nomad and was happy to hear she'd written another one.  To understand the premise of the second book, you need to know a little about the first book (though you certainly don't have to read the first to appreciate the second).

At the age of 48, on the verge of a divorce, Gelman, who at the time led quite the privileged Hollywood-style life, decided to chuck it all and begin traveling.  Now, she lives all over the world, carrying what she needs with her, living serendipitously.  As she puts it, "In 1987 I opened my life to otherness; it became addictive.  I still have no fixed address and hardly any possessions."

And how does she manage to finance this lifestyle?  Through writing children's books.  Her first adult book, which detailed her adventures, also did well.  Well enough that readers clamored for more.  But Gelman didn't really want to write another book, she was too busy having fun.  Part of that fun included trying new and different things and she wanted no part of writing a sequel.  Still, readers clamored.

And thus Female Nomad and Friends was born.  Gelman hit on the idea of using the many stories that readers, inspired by her adventures, had emailed her.  Plus she decided to add recipes. So the resulting anthology has 41 stories and 32 recipes, all of an international bent.  Perhaps the best part of it all is that evey single penny of the proceeds from this book goes to Gelman's current pet project, which is funding vocational educations for high school graduates from the slums of New Delhi. 

For that reason alone you should buy this book.  But you'll also want to buy it for the stories and the recipes.  Its the kind of book that you can have on your bedside table and read one a night, in order if you are that type of person.  Or you can do what I did, which is to pick it up, close my eyes, and choose a story at random until I had read them all.  It is much more fun that way.

Here's a sampler of the stories you'll find in the book:

Breakfast in Malaca, by Wendy Lewis, about a delicious–and surprising–meal in Malaysia.

Chapati Love Remembered, by Jean Allen, probably my favorite story in the whole book, about making chaptis–and love.

Thanksgiving: A Different Perspective, by Ana Maria Bradley, in which a foreign exchange student comes to appreciate an American holiday.

And here's a taste of some of the recipes:

Latvian Piragi

Ginger-Cumin Roasted Chicken (I'm trying this one for sure)

Charred Sugar-Crusted Salmon

Vietnamese Soft Spring Rolls

Mousse au Chocolat Truffee

And many more…

Reading Gelman's story, and the many stories in the anthology, has made me ponder if I could do the same as her–live without a home base anywhere.  Now, I love to travel and actually wish I could do more of it.  But somehow I don't think I could live without a permanent address.  I love Gelman's lifestyle and appreciate that for her, it is all about being open to the other and making connections throughout the world.  But I want my own little house to come home to after I've been away–my pets, my art, my funny little things.

What about everyone else?  Could you travel the world without a permanent home?

While you ponder the answer to that question, here's a bit more information about Gelman and the book:

Rita Golden Gelman is the author of Tales of a Female Nomad and more than seventy children’s books, including More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in every first grade classroom. As a nomad, Rita has no permanent address.  She is currently involved in an initiative called Let’s Get Global, a project of US Servas, Inc, a national movement deigned to bring the gap year to the United States. Learn more at: www.letsgetglobal.org

We invite you to join us on the Female Nomad and Friends virtual tour. The full schedule can be seen at http://bookpromotionservices.com/2010/05/17/female-nomad-tour. You can learn much more about Rita Golden Gelman and her work on her website – www.ritagoldengelman.com

Traveling Down A Different Road

We went to the beach for a night this past weekend.
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But it was to a different cabin in a different town than we've ever stayed at before.  We traveled down a different highway, went to different beaches, ate at different restaurants, saw different things.  All of this was quite by accident, but it was also quite wonderful.

And man oh man, did it get my creative juices flowing.

I'm lucky to live in Portland, Oregon which is about an hour from the coast.  This is a good thing, yes, but it also tends to make me complacent.  I live so very close to the Pacific, and yet I can go months or longer without visiting–when it is a quick hour drive away.  Last week I started jonesing for the ocean.  Big time.  I wanted just to see it, to hear seagulls, to smell the sea air.  I wanted to feel the sand beneath my feet.  Needed the sensory experience of the sea.  

And yet, the upcoming weekend was Memorial Day.  We could only go one night because of obligations on Friday and Saturday night (the Eagles concert!).  What were the odds of getting a reservation for one night?  None, even in this recessionary time.  Enter my new son-in-law, who offered up the use of his family's cabin in one of the small fishing towns that dot Tillamook Bay.

And thus beginneth the different trip to the beach.  A drive down the Wilson River Highway through lush, green, rainy woods where woodsmoke and mist hung low to the ground and the river burbled along next to the highway.  The cabin on the hillside above the bay with a tiny view of it obscured the whole time by mist. A visit to Oceanside, where long ago a local family blasted a tunnel through the cliff to get to the beach on the other side.  I kid you not.  See the photo of the bunker-like entry below.  It was dark and moist and, well, creepy inside, but also irresistible. 

Oceanside2 And there was Netarts, home to Lex's Cool Stuff, the best second hand-store on the Oregon Coast, and a visit to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and then back to Tillamook to eat at a scrumptious Mexican restaurant which featured the best Margaritas this side of Texas and my friend George's blender.

The funny side note to all of this was that the weekend before, I was in Manhattan, as far as you can get on the eastern side of this continent.  And a mere week later, I was as far as you can go on the western side.  Ah, modern life.

But here's the best part:  I kept pulling my journal
CapeMearesLighthouse out and scribbling madly.  I wrote a bit about what I was seeing, but mostly I wrote other stuff.  Ideas for stories.  Ideas for blog posts and newsletter articles.  Ideas for the novel I'm sort of working on.  Ideas for life in general. Something about experiencing the new that just jogs the ideas out of the brain.  Maybe the new sensory input literally pushes out the old to make room it. 

So my new rule in life is do something new every day.  Drive a different way home from the grocery store, skip around the block, wear your hair in a crazy style, write something completely different.  I dunno, what do you think? Give me some new ideas for newness in the comments, if you please.  And, um, be nice.

The Adorable Purple Sandals

AdorablepurplesandalsYesterday I wrote a brief post about my trip to New York and how I bought an adorable pair of purple sandals.  Yet I failed to offer up a photo of said adorable purple sandals.  So, for those of you interested, check them out in the photo to the right. 

Cute, huh?  And surprisingly comfortable, too.  I wore them for hours on Saturday afternoon as we walked through Chinatown and all the wonderful shops of Canal Street, full of scarves and knock-off purses and cheap jewelry.  Heaven!  When we were children, our family drove to San Francisco every summer to visit relatives and there our favorite thing to do was visit Chinatown.  We'd come home laden with rice candy and woven thingies you stick your fingers in and dolls and little purses.  So it is no wonder that both my sister and I love the ticky tacky stores of Canal Street in Manhattan.

We also went into probably every shoe store in New York and studied what shoes women wore on the streets.  I am now ready to report what the latest in shoe fashion is: flats.  Zebra flats, beaded flats, red patent leather flats, plain black flats.  Except for the two skanky young women we saw one night, nobody is wearing heels.  You heard it here first.

The shoes and Canal Street were only a portion of the overall trip.  We met an interesting man from Nottingham, England, who owned a huge, thriving bakery, a woman from Portland who has already become a new friend, and a man from Virginia who told us where to buy beads in Hong Kong.  We saw museums and my Beloved Niece's dance classes and performances and visited friends and ate and drank and walked.  And walked.  And walked some more.

And I came home with my head swimming, full of images of Manhattan that go beyond shoes.

This is a good thing, because when my head is swimming it is alive and making new connections and carving new furrows or whatever that brain circuitry is called.  I'm coming up with new ideas for blog posts and articles and info products and books and stories.  Sometimes when you travel you get shoved out of your comfort zone.  Walking much farther than you normally would on feet that are sore, for instance.  Or staying in a hotel where the bathroom is down the hall.  And then you find out that you will not only survive such things, you'll enjoy them.  And suddenly you have a different view of the world.

Which is a wonderful thing for writers.  Or any kind of creative person in the world.  And aren't we all creative?

Anybody have a good travel story to share?  Or even some news about shoes?

Five Pairs of Shoes

I'm just off the plane from Manhattan (we got in an hour early–have you ever heard of such a thing?), where I walked so much I went through five pairs of shoes in as many days.  Okay, I did buy one pair of adorable purple sandals and wore them all through Chinatown, but considering the number of shoe stores we went in, its a miracle I only came home with one extra pair!

More tomorrow.  In the meantime, a few photos:

 
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I love New York!

20 Aspects to New York City

Early tomorrow morning, I'm heading for New York City.  Five plus days in the Big Apple, fun times!  Here's the drill:

Who'll I'll see
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1.  My sister, my traveling companion.

2.  My niece, student at Tisch NYU, the reason for our visit.

3.  My nephew (from a different sister) who I've not seen in years.

4.  Kate and Adam (child and husband of my friends Sue and Walt from Nashville).

Where we'll stay

5.  Hotel 17, in Greenwich Village.  Cool, huh?  I'm a little worried about the shared bathrooms, but life is an adventure.

What we'll do

6. Visit the Guggenheim.

7. Visit the Cooper Hewitt which is hosting the Design Triennial, which has exhibits of stitchery from Natalie Chanin, among other things, that I want to see.

8.  Visit the Cloisters, which I saw years ago and adored.  What's not to like about the unicorn tapestries?

9.  Visit MOMA, if we have time.  Both my sister and I have been there recently, so it is farther down the list.

10.  See the beloved niece's dance performances every night. 

11.  Hear jazz at the Village Vanguard.  I hope.

What I'm taking

12.  The Hole We're In by Gabrielle Zevin.  I'm three-quarters through it.

13.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  Can't wait to start it.

14.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by What's-his-name.  For my sister, I already read it.

15.  A very small knitting project with demon yarn in pretty colors.  Even if it is demonic.

16.  My journal.  Of course.

17.  My computer.  Tried my best to envision myself without it, but that didn't happen.

What I'm not taking

18.  The biography of Mark Twain I just bought.  This is killing me, but I'm trying to learn that I don't need to take five books with me when I leave for six days.

19.  My stitching project.  Too complicated for travel.

20.  Work.  Except for that one wee project I might work on while in the air. 

Lest you think my absence gives you an excuse not to read my blog, no such luck.  I've got posts pre-written and scheduled all week, including a fabulous guest post on Friday.  There are also cats involved.

And Also (Further Notes on Travel)

I'm in the Denver airport and I've been thinking about the post I wrote yesterday about traveling, a writer's travels to be exact.

In retrospect, I realized I wanted to write a paragraph about what I missed when I travel, but I didn't.  Why? Because I was rushed and had a million things to finish before my sister picked me up at the crack of dawn this morning.  That's another thing about traveling so much: it makes me feel as if I'm always in a rush.

And then I don't have time to do things I want to do, because I'm so often preparing for a trip, giving a workshop, responsibilty for a weekend orientation, meeting with ghostwriting clients, etc.  For instance, I've been organizing my office for months now.  Every time I start to make some progress on it, a new trip looms and I get pulled away to get ready.

Back to the opening sentiment.  Here are things I miss when I travel:

My cats

Sunday suppers with my family

American Idol (there's no TV where I'm staying)

Knitting

Fires in the fireplace

Oregon rain

I'm sure if I thought about it longer I'd come up with more.  

And yet.  I'm reading reports on the Haiti earthquake as I wend my way across the country and it is just horrendous.  I am so damn lucky–we all of us are, anyone who has time to read this blog and worry about writing.  Odds are good we have roofs over our heads, and enough food to eat, and a nice hot shower (to say nothing of a nice hot fireplace).  Yesterday I had the utter luxury of spending the morning shopping and worrying about what I was going to wear for the workshop.

I am so damn lucky.  I love my life.  Home will wait.  I love traveling.  Lord, don't let me forget this.

***If you want to donate to the earthquake relief fund, go here to an excellent compendium on the Huffington Post.  I planned to do a round-up myself, but I'm running out of time before I board the plane to Nashville.

A Writer’s Travels

I'm leaving again tomorrow, this time for Nashville.  Night-104212-m

I travel a lot, sometimes a lot lot.  The last six months I have traveled a lot lot.  In August I was in LA, September in Nashville, October in New Mexico (a real vacation, who knew people did that?), November in LA again and December in Nashville.  That was not so very long ago, and now I'm heading back.

I have good reason to go, and I'm excited about the trip.  First up is the Writer's Loft orientation, a two-day affair for writers.  I'll be presenting my Writing Abundance workshop on Friday afternoon and it is open to the public, but if you are interested, hurry quick because we are filling up.  After the Writer's Loft, I am starting research for a new ghostwriting project.  I bought me a new digital voice recorder and I'm eager to get going. It is about a cat–what could be better?  Plus I'm meeting with two coaching clients–so far.  And I have tons of friends in Nashville who always get me into interesting things, like this time I'm going to visit a prison to meet a friend of a friend. 

I tell ya, this stuff doesn't happen to me in Portland, which is one reason I love travel so much.

But it is also hard.

Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining.  I love my life and I love traveling.  It is just that I get stressed out thinking about the logistics.  You know–getting to the airport on time, making connections, picking up the rental car, like that.  When, really, I rarely have trouble with logistics and if I do, it all seems to sort itself out (on my last trip home from Nashville, I just missed my connecting flight in Denver but got to have dinner with a wonderful fellow traveler who was also stranded).

And I worry that the orientation will be satisfying, that people will like my workshop, that the research will go well, that I'll be able to take good care of the dogs who live in the house I'm housesitting…and while I'm at it, I worry that I haven't heard from the agent who is reading my book, and that my blog traffic will go down when I'm not able to post as often while I'm gone, and that I've got manuscripts to read, and that my cats will miss me and be sad while I'm gone, to say nothing of my family.  Oh wait, never mind, they are all busy with their own lives that don't center around me, I forgot.

But you get the idea.  Sometimes I start worrying so much that I wonder why I do this, why I set myself up for trips that entail so much responsibility and so many things that could go wrong.  And then I realize that if I didn't do it, I'd be bored with myself.  If I didn't set myself up for challenges, I'd probably never leave the house.  And, despite the fact that I long for a couple of months at home without rushing off again, the truth is I love traveling and I most especially love traveling to Nashville. And any crises I have to endure along the way will be worth it in the end.

So off I go again.  

If you are in the Nashville area, come see me at the Loft this Friday and Saturday or email me and we'll set something up, okay?  And meanwhile, if anyone wants to chime in on their own travel worries, feel free.  Other people get stressed about travel, don't they?  Don't they?

The Writing Life: Letter from LA

Sitting in the garden at the Pasadena coffee shop called Zephyr, I whiled away a few good hours talking New_LA_Infobox_Pic_Montage_5 with my screenwriting friend Brian.  We discussed the movie biz and the publishing world while a gentle breeze rustled the ivy covering the patio walls and handsome Armenians smoked hookahs at a table nearby.  Russian literature reared its head for consideration, as did the economy (what current conversation is complete without touching on that?) and other mysteries of life.

That was on day six of my trip to LA.  I was in Pasadena, to be exact, staying with my friend Suzanne, who told me all about her new modality, Reference Point Therapy, and took me through a couple sessions.  I had a tarot reading on day seven, which forecast many good things ahead for me.   I've had tarot readings when such was not the case, that's for sure–which is, perhaps, the beauty of the cards, which are difficult to fake.  Sort of like plotting a novel is difficult to fake–if it doesn't work, the problems are obvious.  (Less obvious, of course, is how to fix it.)

This trip turned out to be a much-needed bit of R and R.  After the year I've had, I needed it more than I realized.  I regret that I was unable to do many of the things I usually do when in LA, such as visit Julie or see Diana.  But I'll make time for them next trip.   This visit was strangely free of meeting with clients, though I did attend one networking event.  And, as usual, stumbled over my tongue when it came time to explain myself:

"And what do you do?" said the bright-eyed young woman.

"Oh, I'm a writer," I replied airily.

"That sounds so exciting.  What kind of writing do you do?"

This is the dreaded question.  "Well, I um, do a lot of ghostwriting.  You know, for business owners who need a book to promote themselves.  And I also do copywriting, like for websites?  And, let's see, I teach creative writing, too.  Because you know, my true love is writing fiction. And my main goal is to get the novel I just finished published."

By this time the bright-eyed woman has turned away.  I hear her asking a middle-aged man what he does.

"I help people maximize their business profits by teaching them to pay attention to their bottom line."

I really need to develop the art of the elevator pitch.  Its a good thing I'm not a screenwriter, required to take meetings with producers and pitch a one-minute synopsis of my novel ("It's, um, Bridget Jones meets Something's Gotta Give?")

But I did manage to have a lovely conversation with a chiropractor who immediately got how important having a book is to promote your business, despite my bumbling attempts to convince him.  And then I went home to a pretty good bottle of Syrah, so that made everything okay.

Yesterday, Suzanne and I went to see Julie and Julia, a most wonderful movie.  Neither of us had been to see a movie for months, and going to the theater to see movies is one of the things I love to do.  It took us about three hours to get there because we kept screwing up the showing times and having to drive back and forth to various theaters.  But it was worth it.  I loved the film.  What's not to love when Meryl Streep nails Julia Child, like totally nails her?  And Amy Adams plays a blogger who hits the big time. 

Now, at this very moment, I am sitting in the San Francisco airport.  I have a three-hour layover here, despite the fact that a direct flight from Burbank to PDX is only two hours.  But it gives me time to ponder southern California, and the strange hold that LA seems to have on me.  I don't miss it when I'm gone from there, but as soon as I get there, I start plotting when I can get back.  Can somebody explain this to me? Plus, I'm a Portland girl, through and through.  I like rain and greenery.  I like people who walk places (I can't tell you how many times I nearly got run down by Very Big Trucks on my morning ambles through Pasadena) and bicyclists and citizens who take public transportation and eschew their cars. I like pale skin, beaches you can walk along and not see many other people, and ice-cold ocean water.  I like people of various shapes and sizes and levels of beauty.  So can somebody please tell me why I keep falling in love with LA?

A couple of non-LA related notes:

Please go vote for Whimsey, my friend Julie's dog.  Because A. he's adorable and B. it would really help her out.

And don't forget the exciting contest that is coming up right here in this very spot next week.  Stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0.

Ah, LA….

where it is illegal to look different from anyone else.

It is a requirement here that you be thin, tan, have long hair, wear sunglasses and pout, AND be young.  Thus if you are not young it is required that you go get plastic surgery really, really fast.  And then you look like you are trying hard to look like everyone else, even though everyone knows that you went under the knife to do it.

Ah, LA.  I love it so, and I'm not even sure why.

Being here always makes me muse on the nature of identity and true self.  These are important topics for writers because letting that ole true self out in words is pretty much the key to it all.  You will find success only when you find your voice and you find your voice by writing enough that you can let it rip, and open a direct line from your deepest inner being, through the arm, out the fingers, and onto the page.  Or keyboard.  Or digital recorder.

My friend Deidre, who lives in Silver Lake, says that everyone in LA strives to look alike and act alike and be alike and then the one person who is not like everyone else arrives and they are the one who makes it.  So why does everyone else persist in attempting to be like everyone else?

And once you hit 40, forget it.  Actually, it might even be 30.  Soon it will probably be 20.

Lat night I had drinks with a friend who is an entertainment attorney and he says its a hellish culture of youth here  (my words, not his, but they have a ring to them, no?)  As an attorney, he is expected to be wise and mature so he doesn't have to worry about the the age thing, but if you are flailing about on the creative side trying to make it, you gotta be young.

The hell part is, of course, that everyone ages.  Even Hollywood Goldenboys.  Then they have to dye their hair and pretend they are still young.

I realize that none of this is news, yet it continually perplexes me every time I come down here. Why do we all persist in trying to make ourselves just like everyone else, when there's only one of each of us in this whole world?  I'm veering dangerously close to getting teary eyed and talking about snowflakes here so forgive me, or better yet, explain it to me.

I'm reading Harriet Rubin's latest book, The Mona Lisa Stratagem: The Art of Women, Age, and Power, and she talks about how if a famous actor is on stage and a cat is on stage, all eyes will be on the cat. Why?  Because the cat is uniquely, gloriously, himself, no matter what.  Animals just are.  (This might help to explain why the most popular photos on my yahoo home page are always of animals.  So we're not as simple minded as I feared.)  Its the same thing with babies.  Ever notice how nobody can keep their eyes off them? 

Somebody ought to tell all the 20-something wannabe actresses that story.

And yet, despite my horror at the preponderance of clones everywhere and the cult of youth here, there is something about this place that keeps luring me back. 
Maybe I like coming here so much because I can flee back north to
Portland, where everybody seems desperately determined to not look like
anyone else, ever. 

Or maybe its just the palm trees.